Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Family In Need - Part 2

Earlier this month I posted about a family who was facing a life-threatening illness in their 8-month-old son, David.  I'm heartbroken to deliver the news that David lost his battle on Monday, January 24th.  His mother, Amy, is an incredibly strong woman (as witnessed by her five-month-long vigil by his hospital bed) but the loss of her second child to this disease is a pain I can not fathom.  Please continue to pray for their family (there are three more little ones at home).  You can learn more of Amy and David's story or leave thoughts of condolence at http://transplantedx3.wordpress.com/ . 

We will be donating blood in honor of David at our local blood drive on Feb. 8th.  If you are physically able, please find a blood drive near you and give in honor of David and to help others who are fighting their own battles.  It's a simple gift that can mean everything.  Visit http://www.givelife.org/.

Life Lessons, or Where do these people come from?

Today's Life Lesons from the Library:
1. It is innappropriate to set up your office at a public access computer and conduct personal or professional business all day, especially when said business involves both phone conversations and chatting between you and your business partner/spouse.

2. Adults are in charge - not children.  Please do not whine at your child/grandchild in an attempt to persuade them to obey.  Take a stand and leave the library as quickly as possible if it is unsuccessful.

3. Grown men with bawdy-lyricked hip-hop songs as their ring tones are just wrong.

4. Librarians do not now, nor have they ever, worked for the IRS, H&R Block, or any other tax-related entity.  We can not figure your taxable income, recommend a tax preparation site, or tell you if those ratty National Geographics you donated can be written off.  Nor can we advise you on UN-filing your taxes, but that's another story.

Just thought you should know.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

I didn't read the first book until thirty-two years after it was published. I read the eighth, and most recent, book just five months later, never having read any of the stories in between. Cause that's just the kind of disordered, non-conformist I am, that's why.

The story began in 1976, when Mary Ann Singleton, twenty-five-year-old secretary from Cleveland, shocked her parents by moving to San Francisco. At some point in those intermediate stories, she left her husband and adopted daughter to pursue a tv career in New York. Twenty years later, she returns to San Francisco and the comfort of old friends to deal with the recent break-up of her second marriage, and a cancer diagnosis (Don't worry - not a spoiler - that's in the first chapter.)

When I reviewed the first book, I was struck by the common goal of the characters. Regardless of age, race, income or sexual orientation, each was searching for genuine love and acceptance - a human connection. That theme continues, but with a dose of second chances and a twist of age-related wisdom.  Life is all about the relationships! 

"It all goes so fast, she thought. We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and it's over before you know it. We lose everyone we love, if they don't lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract us from that reality." 

There is a children's book by Karen Kingsbury called Let Me Hold You Longer, about how parents savor their children's firsts - first steps, first words - but the lasts often pass by without a sound or a nod. I don't remember the last time one of my children ran to me to be picked up, or the last time I took them to school. (I recommend that every mother read it regardless of their children's age - but, seriously, get a fistfull of Kleenex first.)


That book came to mind as I read, watching Mary Ann learn that the same lesson applies to friends. We let friendships slide. Life gets in the way, visits and calls become fewer and fewer until they are gone. As she remembers her friend, Mona, who died of breast cancer a few years earlier, she admonishes herself, "There was another one she had carelessly lost forever,without even knowing the actual moment she had lost her."

I don't know if this volume is intended to be the final Tale of the City, but I felt like I caught up with the characters (or them with me?).  We all ended in the same place - with some things, regretfully, finished and some new possibilities just beginning.

*****************************************************************************************************
Amistead Maupin's writing is a treasure chest of quotes you want to remember.  Here are the ones that made my Favorite Quotes notebook:

Shawna: "I just don't understand, that's all."
Anna: "Understand what?"
Shawna: "Why the universe hands me such random shit."
Anna: "Sometimes the universe has a slow day."

"DeDe never claimed to be hip, and really didn't care who knew it."

On receiving a compliment:  "Mary Ann laughed, "You're a shamless liar." But such a lovely friend, she thought." (Isn't that the perfect description of a girlfriend?)


On visiting a clothing-optional beach:  "I just don't think that people my age should be inflicting their naked selves on the landscape. It's not generally appreciated. It's the same reason I don't litter."


On traveling through a mountain pass in a snowstorm:  "He was going forty-five around a bend where thirty-five had been suggested, and she'd just caught a glimpse of the gaping chasm beyond the road, the instant oblivion that some people liked to call a View."


And my personal favorite:

As Mary Ann regrets the broken relationship with her daughter, Mrs. Madrigal consoles: "Daughters, you'll find, are surprisingly retrievable."

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

This story is one of the most creative concepts I've ever read - The Night Bookmobile tells the story of a wistful woman who one night encounters a mysterious disappearing library on wheels that contains every book she has ever read.

Isn't that just the coolest idea?  How I would love to have my own personal library, to be able to review old favorites long forgotten, to wander through my growth and transformation as a reader. 
I turned to the books.  The section I was standing in was full of children's books.  I drifted along, noticing textbooks mingled with pictures books, and an assortment of books you don't usually see in libraries:  family Bibles, photo albums, telephone books.  Some of the books had catalog numbers on their spines, some didn't.  The books weren't arranged by subject, and some of the numbers seemed to belong to different systems.  In fact, the books seemed to belong to many different libraries.
Later in the story, a young library patron begins her own collection.  Holding a copy of Good Night Moon, the librarian says, "She just read this today, all by herself.  It's the first item in her collection."  Doesn't that just make you swoon?  The story also involves a dark twist, reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. 

Now for the bad news.  Publisher's Weekly described the artwork this way: Niffenegger’s full-color art has a na├»ve tone, with sometimes stiff figures, and text written in childlike script. The simplicity of the images contrasts with sophisticated page layouts in which she plays with panels and perspective.  That's much more polite than I would have been. I found the drawings, the layout and even the writing, at times, to be very elementary.

 
I really wish Ms. Niffenegger had abandoned the graphic novel concept and developed this brilliant idea into at least a short story or novella.  I felt cheated to be finished reading in under thirty minutes and still have such a longing for more of the story.

Lake of [Failed] Dreams

At a crossroads in her life, Lucy Jarrett returns home from Japan, only to find herself haunted by her father's unresolved death a decade ago. Old longings stirred up by Keegan Fall, a local glass artist who was once her passionate first love, lead her into the unexpected. Late one night, as she paces the hallways of her family's rambling lakeside house, she discovers, locked in a window seat, a collection of objects that first appear to be useless curiosities, but soon reveal a deeper and more complex family past. As Lucy discovers and explores the traces of her lineage-from an heirloom tapestry and dusty political tracts to a web of allusions depicted in stained-glass windows throughout upstate New York-the family story she has always known is shattered, Lucy's quest for the truth reconfigures her family's history, links her to a unique slice of the suffragette movement, and yields dramatic insights that embolden her to live freely.

I had to call it quits on this one.  After reading 46% of the book (yes, I actually stopped to do the math) it met my criteria for the DNF pile:  I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters, I didn't care what happened to them and - most importantly - I had to force myself to read.  It wasn't FUN!

The synopsis from the book flap talks about Lucy being haunted by her father's death, yet I didn't get that feeling from reading the story.  The premise of the story still sounds intriguing, but it just didn't develop - at least not quickly enough to keep me reading.  Coming from a big-name author, I was surprised at my reaction to this book.  I'm sure there will be many fans who love it, but it's just not for me. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

And We'll Have Fun, Fun, Fun...

...till Daddy takes the T-Bird away.  Actually, for us, having the second child took the T-Bird away.  No way were TWO car seats gonna fit in there.  But since my pretty, red 1985 T-Bird - after morphing through a series of "family friendly" vehicles over the past twenty years - has now been replaced with our empty nest toy, a shiny blue Mustang, I'm mostly over it.  Besides, today's topic is not cars, or even Beach Boys music, but "fun".

Twice in the past few weeks I've heard people lamenting the lack of "fun" in their lives.  First was my college-freshman daughter who was unsure of her college choice because it wasn't as "fun" as she thought it would be.   Of course it hurts my heart just a bit any time life isn't all aces for one of my kids and I'm still having some restless moments of worry for her.  But, for the most part, I dismissed this as end-of-the-semester stress and fear of the future - that she was remembering only the ex-roommate conflicts, car break downs, and homesickness, and fearing the new semester with a new roommate and new challenges. Then she said, "It's sad when the only fun you have at school is sitting in your dorm room with your roommate."  (This is her "twin" roommate who, sadly, isn't returning to KSU next semester; not the crazy, kleptomaniac one.)  Now, we both know she had fun at other times, but a question began to buzz like a mosquito in my brain.  What is "fun"?

A few days later, the ever inspiring Molly at My Cozy Book Nook posted about the ongoing scuffle between what we "should" be doing and what we "want" to be doing.  Her thoughts are considerably deeper than that paraphrase and worth your time to read.  Actually, they'll probably be the basis of another post here in a couple days, but the line that got that mosquito thought buzzing again was "I don't want to change who I am --- I just want to learn to enjoy who I am.  I want to have some fun in life."

So, I went in search of the fun in my life. My first thoughts were related to holidays and special occasions when we travel to concerts, plays, sporting events, or to visit the kids/grandkids/extended-family.  We even take occasional vacations to new and exotic locales.  Most would agree that THAT is fun!

But those times are the exceptions.  What about the average weekend?  Well, weather permitting, we might play golf or go water-skiing (that's just fun for Dave, not for women with aversions to heat, bugs and large bodies of water) then in the evening, build a fire in the chiminea and sit on the porch with friends and neighbors for a beer, conversation and s'mores.  In the colder months, we go to movies, watch the Cats or the Broncos/Cowboys on tv, eat meals in places where we don't have to do the dishes, or have friends over for hilarious games of "Apples to Apples".  However, we might also mow the yard, take the dogs to be groomed, repaint the bathroom, pay bills, and grocery shop.  Did the mundane outweigh the fun?


How about weekdays?  In a typical work day, I get up around 7:00 a.m. to be at work by 9:00.  Living four blocks from my job, and having my hair and make-up routine refined to the minimum, actual prep time is thirty minutes, but I don't wake up as quickly as I used to, so the other 90 minutes is for coffee and zombie impersonations.  I spend eight hours working at a job I love.  If our lunch breaks coincide, Dave and I usually work on a crossword puzzle together while we grab a sandwich.  After work I return home to make supper and do a little laundry or housework, mixed with DVR episodes of Jeopardy, reading, sewing and chatting with Dave.  That's just life - but is it fun?

I believe our daughter was referring to her former high-school lifestyle - spending the entire day with a group of friends, many privileges and few responsibilities - as compared to her new college life which requires more effort and accountability, when she was mourning the lack of fun.  Molly, on the other hand, knows full well the obligations of adulthood.  She wasn't asking to return to a carefree youth, but only, perhaps, to find more pleasure in the day-to-day.  When given a "snow day" from work, she filled the time with some activities she rarely had enough time for, but found herself continually hurrying on to the next thing, trying to be efficient. (Again, I encourage you to read her entire post, because I'm not even close to doing it justice.)  In her own words, "At the end of the day, I initially felt as though I had accomplished little, when in fact I had accomplished much but enjoyed little."  


And therein lies the answer, I think.  "Fun", as it applies to daily, responsible-adult living, is not about being constantly carefree and pampered.  It's about a positive attitude towards the mundane and predictable, and focusing fully on the rest.  Now, there is absolutely no way I'm ever going to enjoy mowing the lawn, but a cold drink and a book on the porch swing afterwards is fun.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To Have and To Kill by Mary Jane Clark


Soap operas, cake and murder...You pretty much gotta assume I'm going to love this book.  And I did, for whatever curious thing that says about me.

According to Publisher's Weekly, this story is a "fluffy first in a promising new cozy series".  Mary Jane Clark is a new author for me, so I can't speak to this story's "fluffiness" as compared to her previous works, but as an experienced reader of cozy mysteries, I can say that it outshines the average. 

Piper Donovan (you also gotta love a heroine with such a cool name) is an out-of-work actress who moves back home to help out in her mom's bakery.  She agrees to make a wedding cake for her friend and Soap star, Glenna, but a series of murders surrounding the happy couple throw a wrench in the nuptuals, so Piper turns sleuth and helps track down the killer.  Ostensibly, it's the standard, well-worn, foodie-themed fluff, but there's CAKE under that fluff (cause saying it has meat sounded disgusting).  
Along with crime solving, Piper is dealing with her stalled career, the guilt of moving in with her parents, and her mother's failing eyesight.  Even when the murderer is busted, these open issues, combined with promising romantic lead and handy FBI agent, Jack, leave plenty of puzzles to be solved in the next installment.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Family in Need

A few days ago, Donna at The House on the Corner asked for prayer for a family facing major medical problems with several of their children.   Amy, the incredible mom of these amazing little boys, has started a blog called Transplanted Thoughts to chronicle the daily struggles. 

And today the struggle has become an all out war.  Captain Snuggles, as she refers to her 8-month-old son, is fighting for his life and it's a mighty battle.  We are requesting two things of you.  First, please pray!  Pray for a miracle, and also for strength, peace and wisdom for this family. 

Second, give blood if you can.  We are avid proponents of being blood donors.  Our children began giving as soon as they were able, at age 16.  Our oldest daughter, Amy, received donated blood when she had complications following surgery, so it has become personal for us.  If not for blood donors, we could have lost her.  So, please, if you are physically able, be a blood donor and Give Life!  Check out http://www.redcross.org/ for information on a blood drive near you.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Murder Your Darlings by J. J. Murphy

One morning legendary wit Dorothy Parker discovers someone under Manhattan's famed Algonquin Round Table. A little early for a passed out drunk, isn't it? But he's not dead drunk, just dead. When a charming writer from Mississippi named Billy Faulkner becomes a suspect in the murder, Dorothy decides to dabble in a little detective work, enlisting her literary cohorts.  It's up to the Algonquins to outwit the true culprit - preferably before cocktail hour - and before the clever killer turns the tables on them.

"Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."  That well-known line is used to describe the members of the Algonquin Round Table in Murder Your Darlings.  I was unable to chase down the exact origin of the quote - it's attributed to a variety of sources - but it fits this book and it's cast of characters perfectly.  Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchly, William Faulkner and company are, of course, real people portrayed in a fictitious murder mystery.  The author admits taking liberties with the timeline to fit his story, but the blend of history and mystery is just right.  Once the story was complete, I was intrigued enough to do some further reading on the Round Table regulars.

The mystery plot isn't anything to write home about and the ending is...odd, but the combination of real characters, and Parker and Benchley's quick, acerbic wit make this a unique story that's worth the read.  I'll be on the lookout for the second book in the series, You Might As Well Die.

The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry

The year is 1960, and, as it is every year, the Christmas pageant at St. John's Episcopal Church is a very big deal.  Doug is a shepherd this year, which is better than being a Three King, because, for one thing, you get to carry a stick.  But there are problems everywhere. His fellow shepherds are hacking around, which makes Mrs. Elkins yell at all of them; the girl he likes is playing Mary opposite a Joseph who is depressingly smart and athletic and cute; the family dog is doing very poorly, and they have no idea what they're going to tell Doug's little sister Becky, who's playing one of the Host of Angels and who loves the dog more than anything; and his dad's just gotten a flat tire, which means they might not even get to the pageant at all.   But Christmas is a time of miracles. And for Doug and his family, this will be the most miraculous Christmas ever.

What a hoot!  This fun, little story is reminiscent of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, or Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb.  It's the 1960's (the era of my youth), the familiar Christmas pageant (I remember the year I was finally old enough to be the narrator!) and a Christmas miracle.  It's a quick read and rather predictable, but for folks "of a certain age" it's also a walk down memory lane. 

My sister gave me this book for Christmas and it was a great "blast from the past" for us to share.  The pictures are especially precious.  One shot of a 1960's household, decorated in the "in" aqua color, with vintage gifts stacked by the fireplace looks exactly like our grandparent's home. I want to clip it out and frame it!  We both had Kewpie dolls similar to the one pictured in the book.  This was the January selection for our T&T Book Club - our method of staying connected through reading together - and the perfect laid-back start to the new year.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

For Those About To Rock.... We Salute You

I know we have some readers who don't keep up on K-State sports, and all we can say is "Why not?"  But, if you happen to be one of them, or if you've just had your nose in a book instead of on ESPN, let us update you - our Wildcats got hosed in the final seconds of the Pinstripe Bowl.  You can get the full story here, but in a nutshell - K-State scored a touchdown with 1:13 remaining on the clock.  A two-point conversion would tie the game.  Following the TD, the KSU player "offered a quick salute to the crowd and headed immediately toward the bench", and was penalized for "excessive celebration", moving the extra point attempt back fifteen yards, making it a much more difficult play which was, ultimately, unsuccessful.

Now, there's lots of controvery about whether or not the salute was a "delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself" as the NCAA rule reads.  There's also a dispute surrounding a Syracuse player who flashed a gang sign following several of his touchdowns but was not similarly penalized.  (For those of you whose knowledge of gang signs is equal with mine - which is zilch - the Urban Dictionary describes the Roc or Dynasty sign as "the gang sign popularized by jay-z and kanye to symbolize anything pertaining to the Roc. It is made by forming the general shape of a diamond, adjoining one's index finger and thumb to those of the other hand.")  The aftermath of all this disputing includes a Facebook Salute group, multitudes of articles and YouTube videos, and discussion on the effectiveness of rules based entirely on the official's discretion.

It's obvious which side of the argument we favor and I'm not going to use the blog to initiate or continue debate.  We'll let you read the article, watch the videos and make your own call.  We'll even allow you to ignore the entire thing, which is likely to be the majority response, but I just had to share this fun TV moment.  The Salute is such a hot topic, it even made it onto Live with Regis and Kelly. 





Thanks for the support, Regis. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

As Luck Would Have It...


...I am engrossed in this thoroughly fun mystery by new author, J. J. Murphy, when I stumble across the announcement on Dollyca's Thoughts (well, not actually a stumble since I visit there regularly) that J.J. would be guest posting there today.   I was nearly verklempt!

This is a unique story, combining mystery and history, and I encourage you to check out J.J.'s post and book.  Thanks Lori, for hosting this exciting new author.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

SURPRISE Winner! ... Not so much.

We issued this challenge a year ago to try to encourage more people to share the love of reading.  It was met with enthusiasm, but not so much actual reading.  Actually, Andy and Molly at The Bumbles Blog were the only entrants.  So CONGRATULATIONS BUMBLES!  You win the book of your choice from Amazon.com (value of $25 or less).  Please drop us an email at hcl_tami @ yahoo (dot) com with your selection and your shipping address.

Are we daunted?  Of course not.  We will continue on our quest to promote reading in general, and "duo" reading in particular.   Quick Robin, to the Bat Library!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I'm setting aside all attempts to write a clever review today because this book is too significant.  It deserves to be taken seriously.  Ms. Genova first self-published this story in 2007, then it was picked up by Simon and Schuster in January 2009.  Unfortunately, it didn't hit my radar until just before Christmas when a library patron requested that we borrow it from another library.  Alzheimer's disease has become a major part of our lives in the past ten years.  We have watched Dave's mom slowly melt away, to be replaced by a stranger.  But somewhere inside her there is a core, that thing that makes her her, that is still Mom.

Still Alice is the story of a successful Harvard professor, wife and mother who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's at age 50.  What begins with misplacing her cell phone and keys, or "losing" words in conversation - ordinary things I experience every day - develops into moments of terror when she becomes lost in the neighborhood where she's lived for over twenty years.  Soon Alice is repeating herself, forgetting the topic of the lecture she's giving, and the downhill slide continues until she doesn't recognize her own family.  What makes this book phenominal is that the story is told from Alice's perspective.  We share her confusion and fear as she faces losing her relationships, abilities and professional standing - her very identity - and cry with her as she longs to scream "I'm still Alice!" 

During the early years, my mother-in-law was aware of her disease and made allowances for it, such as sitting out a family game of Scattergories because "I can't think like that anymore."  But as it progressed, she began to deny the symptoms.  When we finally had to take the car keys, she was adamant that she never became confused or lost when traveling, even though we could cite instances to the contrary.  I have always wondered if she was truly unaware of these incidents after they happened, or if she was just trying to hang on to her freedom a little longer. Of course, I couldn't ask her.  That's why I found this book so fascinating - to get inside the disease and understand, at least a little, of what she is experiencing.  For example, towards the end, Alice is sitting with her three children.  She knows she has a daughter named Lydia, and has detailed memories of her at various stages of her life.  She believes her husband when he tells her that the woman sitting at her table is Lydia, but she can not make a connection between her memories and this woman. 

The author has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard and has done extensive research on the genetic causes of the disease, it's progression, and research into possible treatments/cures.  I can't say I understood all of the science involved, but I now have a better grasp of how the disease works and hope for a cure before my children have to face this genetic possibility.

In spite of the scientific details, the book is a compelling novel.  I had to take frequent breaks, not because of the complexity, but because the story was so personal.  I felt Alice's determination, bewilderment and, most of all, her fear.  If you have an Alzheimer's patient in your life, this story may be difficult to read but it is a valuable insight into what they are dealing with. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mad Dog and Englishman by J.M. Hayes

Once again, it took considerable time and contemplation to make my book selection.  First, I needed to fill in the "Kansas Book" slot on my Library Bingo card, which required a book set in Kansas or written by an author from Kansas.  (Score!  This book fits both categories.) 

Next I carefully considered the title/subject matter of the many books with a Kansas connection.  This one was shelved in the mystery section, that's a plus, and I was intrigued by the word-play of the title (from a Noel Coward line "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.")

And most important to my complex book-selecting formula - there's a picture of a grain elevator on the cover.  I'm sold.

The story takes place in fictional Benteen County, Kansas, where Sheriff English (or Englishman to his half-Cheyenne brother, Mad Dog) rarely encounters a crime bigger than a Saturday night drunk-and-disorderly.  When the Rev. Peter Simms is found murdered and scalped in the city park, the Sheriff gathers his Roscoe P. Coltrain-type deputies and their inadequate equipment and attempts to run a buy-the-book investigation.  The results are, at varying times, hilarious and frightning. 

But, don't let the Keystone Cops moments fool you.  This is a somber and disturbing story of abuse and secrets with touches of Native American shamanism thrown in.  The mystery centers around a complex family history that I have to admit I struggled to follow at times, but in the end all the threads were tied together. 

The story eventually included every rural Kansas stereotype - uneducated law enforcement, Indians, meddlesome townspeople, a grain elevator and, of course, a tornado. But it's obvious the author has a Kansas history and did his research. Each aspect was covered realistically, including the inner workings of the elevator, to make a unique thriller.  This book will interest mystery lovers and anyone with a "Kansas connection" of their own.